Khaled, members of the Bahrain British Business Forum and guests, good afternoon. A particularly warm welcome to Brigadier Peter Sincock, Chairman of the Bahrain Society in the UK, and his wife Ginnie, old friends of Bahrain and the royal family here.
Many thanks for giving me the opportunity yet again as we near the end of another busy year to give you, my partners and stakeholders, an end of year report on the state of UK/Bahrain relations and a look ahead to 2014, in particular the GREAT British Week in January.
My message to you today is that 2013 has been, in the words of Frank Sinatra, a very good year for the UK/Bahrain bilateral relationship, in particular for giving practical effect to our policy and words of support for His Majesty King Hamad and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince’s reform plans but also for advancing our defence and commercial interests. Bahrain’s leadership openly talk of the importance of the strategic partnership with the UK. King Hamad’s two visits to London this summer, for meetings with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence, and the Crown Prince’s three visits since May reflect that. But those visits and high-level visits here have also advanced bilateral cooperation.
Many people ask “so what is it that the UK is doing on reform support”. Well, our programme of judicial and human rights reform assistance to key ministries and institutions, including in capacity building and training, has intensified this year, with regular training visits to and from the UK involving eg the National School of Government International, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons and Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas. We have been key to the establishment of the Police Ombudsman, the first in the region; the restructuring of the National Institution for Human Rights; and, steps towards a national preventative mechanism on torture. It is too early to judge the impact. We acknowledge that sustained, comprehensive reform will take time, and we urge the Government, as a close friend and ally, to build on the welcome steps they have taken and ensure that all the recommendations of the various reports which they have accepted are implemented in full soon, particularly in areas where progress has been slow.
In short, the UK is, by far, the leading provider of reform support. Our delivery of key reform assistance has been good (and is without parallel in Bahrain and the Gulf).
We are also encouraging our international partners, such as the EU, to complement our support, with some encouraging results.
A political solution here remains elusive, despite our strong encouragement of dialogue. We continue to call on all sides to play a constructive role in the National Consensus Dialogue process for the long-term stability of the Kingdom.
Our efforts on developing a closer defence relationship are paying dividends, with the King publicly making clear his interest in acquiring the Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft and good discussions on ensuring that the Royal Navy’s facilities in this, their busiest base overseas, will be fit for purpose for many years to come. Bahrain remains a generous host, providing support for our strategically important missions which provide security not just for Bahrain and the Gulf but also the wider region and ultimately for the international community. Let me take this opportunity to again thank the British servicemen and women who serve their country here and elsewhere in the Gulf. I pay tribute to their loyal and dedicated service far from home.
Our the commercial side, our efforts have shifted up a gear, to take advantage of a better environment for British business following clear messages from the Bahraini authorities that they want to see a bigger and stronger UK commercial presence in Bahrain. British companies, including ones new to the market, are winning good business, including with the support of the Embassy’s UK Trade and Investment team, for example Ordnance Survey’s recent deals with the Survey and Land Registration Bureau. Other UK-based companies have benefitted significantly from the Embassy’s support, including high-level lobbying.
In the summer we saw the first major British manufacturing investment for many years with Reckitt Benkaiser setting up in the Sheikh Salman Industrial Park. In the pipeline are a number of high value projects including BAPCO expansion, airport expansion, public transportation and telecommunications, with a strong British interest in each.
The highly successful World Islamic Economic Forum in London at the end of October, which was attended by HRH The Crown Prince, laid the groundwork for closer bilateral cooperation on Islamic finance, which was taken forward last week during the World Islamic Banking Conference here and will be a key element of the visit of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Fiona Woolf, when she visits Bahrain in February. Incidentally, not just the 2nd woman to be a Lord Mayor in the 824 year history of the post but also one who spent 3 years working in Bahrain in the 1980s with Baker Mackenzie.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Khaled Al Zayani, the BBBF Committee and BBBF members for their support as we seek to strengthen the commercial relationship.
So that is my brief assessment of the state of play in the bilateral relationship. Now let me turn to what my boss, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, said on Bahrain when he gave an impressive and well-received keynote speech at the opening of the International Institute of Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue on Friday night. Incidentally, it is worth noting that this was probably the largest UK delegation to visit Bahrain for decades, with 2 ministers, the head of our armed forces and two groups on MPs. As the Foreign Secretary note, Manama felt more like Westminster on Sea.
As only a few of you were at Friday’s opening, his words are well worth repeating:
“I particularly thank His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Bahrain. You have our warm and sincere respect not only as a great friend of the United Kingdom, but also for your leadership in your own country. As you, His Majesty and your colleagues work to build the long-term stability that Bahrainis deserve we will be a staunch friend to you: supporting the sustained, comprehensive reform you are seeking, and calling on all sides to play a constructive role in political dialogue.
“The relationship between the UK and Bahrain is historic, it goes back nearly 200 years to the East India company in 1816. It is deep, since thousands of British nationals call this country their home. And it has a great future, with new areas of cooperation developing all the time, such as the affinity between London as a global financial capital and Bahrain as a major centre of Islamic finance.
“One of our first decisions as a new Government in Britain in May 2010 was to reinvigorate British diplomacy in the Gulf and to reverse what we saw as the neglect by previous ministers of crucial relationships.
“It is my strong view that the UK and other Western countries must retain and also strengthen our commitment to stability in the Gulf. We demonstrate that commitment here in Bahrain, where thanks to Bahraini hospitality our Royal Air Force has flown from your skies for 70 years, our Royal Navy has patrolled in these waters for nearly 80 years, and British minesweepers, some of the most advanced in the world, are stationed here now, ready at all times to confront threats to the security of this region. We are extending our cooperation on defence and security with countries in the Gulf, deliberately and for the long term, encompassing cyber security and counter-terrorism as well our Armed Forces working together. We will remain solidly committed to intensifying and building up these links, based on common interests and the deepest possible mutual understanding.
“Today in Britain we now have far greater consultation with governments in this region on foreign policy, many more visits in all directions and a much more coherent effort to build up our economic links. Our bilateral trade in goods with the Gulf has increased by 30% in the last two years alone. Many people characterise the Middle East as a region of problems, but we know it as a region of immense achievement and opportunity as well. That is why we supported Dubai’s bid to host the World Expo 2020.
“Our stronger emphasis on the Gulf is part of our wider foreign policy in which we are building up and expanding Britain’s global presence”.
In summary, ladies and gentlemen, the Foreign Secretary was saying that Bahrain and Gulf matter; and that the UK not only takes Bahrain and the Gulf seriously but also that the UK is a strategic partner for Bahrain and the other Gulf States.
As the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, who visited Bahrain in March, acknowledged in their recent report on the UK’s relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the UK/Bahrain bilateral relationship has grown from strength to strength. In a broad endorsement of the British Government’s approach, the Committee noted that “The Government’s efforts to re-establish close relations since 2011 appear to have been successful, and the UK is now well placed to help Bahrain as it shapes its future. We conclude that the Government is correct to try to use its high profile and influence to good effect to support evolutionary reform in Bahrain and to act as a critical friend. The Government is right to pursue a strategy of engagement with Bahrain.”
So, let us look ahead to 2014, but first of all need to look back. As you know, the UK/Bahrain relationship is a long-standing one. We have known each other for nearly 400 years, following the establishment in 1616 of the first East India Company presence in the Gulf. A picture of Admiral Lord Nelson hangs in my Residence in recognition of his reputed presence as a midshipman on board one of the East Indies Station ships which patrolled the Arabian Gulf in the late 18th century. Our first agreement of friendship dates from 1816. Which is why over the next 2 years, leading up to 2016, we shall be celebrating the bicentenary of bilateral relations.
So let me bring you up to speed on planning for the upcoming GREAT British Week, which will take place from the 15th to the 22nd of January. The event, which is being held under the patronage of His Majesty the King and will be formally launched at the Bahrain International Air Show, will kick of the build-up to the 200th anniversary of bilateral relations.
The GREAT British Week message is simple: Britain is GREAT. We are proud of our past and confident of our future. We want to celebrate the things that make the United Kingdom great. There are many of them. Our knowledge, our technology, our innovation, our entrepreneurs, our business environment, our culture, our sport, our landscape, our heritage.
Planned activities will highlight UK excellence and innovation, and showcase the UK as a place to invest in, to visit and to study, celebrating all that is best about the UK.
The GREAT British Week is also designed to celebrate the close, long-standing friendship and strong bilateral relationship between the UK and Bahrain, including our vibrant business links.
This is the first celebration in Bahrain of everything British in a generation and I am very excited at the prospect of putting on and supporting a whole range of events that reflect the best of British and the best of the Bahraini/British partnership.
The week-long programme will kick off with a BBBF lunch on Wednesday 15th January, at which the guest speaker will be our VVIP visitor. More details on that will be announced shortly.
There are then three key events, among a much larger programme of events, which are being organised by my Embassy, the Bahrain British Business Forum and the British Council. The first of these is a “Knowledge” conference supported by Brunel and Ahlia Universities. The event, which will be open to the general public, will highlight the strong and longstanding relationship between Bahraini and British Universities. It will promote the many areas of collaboration including scientific research & development, design, innovation and the growth of post-graduate courses.
The second event, an “Advanced Engineering & Innovation” conference at the Bahrain International Circuit, staged on the final day of the Air Show and generously sponsored by the Bahrain Economic Development Board, will highlight UK expertise in the key sectors of advanced engineering, automotive, aerospace and advanced technologies. Over 200 delegates and exhibitors are expected to participate with support coming from leading British companies such as Rolls Royce (Aero), BAE Systems and McLaren Automotive. Seminars will encourage business-to-business and networking opportunities while exhibits from many leading technology companies will underpin the value of the event to the business community.
McLaren Automotive will use the event to demonstrate its recently launched ground-breaking supercar, the McLaren P1, and lucky delegates will be given the chance to experience the Formula One track from the seat of the company’s McLaren 12C.
Our final event of the GREAT British Week will be a Celebration Dinner showcasing other formidable British exports, notably fashion and food. Sponsors of this event include a range of great British high street brands operated by the Alshaya Trading Co. A fashion show will entertain dinner guests while they are treated to the traditional tastes of Britain.
In addition to these events, I am pleased to announce that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing in Bahrain on Thursday 16th January at the stunning National Theatre. You will also see one of the GREAT new sleek London red double-decker buses cruising round Bahrain.
I am also delighted that we are seeing so many clubs, schools and other organizations with British roots becoming involved.
Let me say a huge thank you to all of our sponsors, without whose help the GREAT British Week would not be possible. I am most grateful for your generous support. I would also like to say thank you to the members of the Steering Group, chaired by Khaled Al Zayani, who are overseeing preparations for the Week. And to Martin Whitaker, our marketing genius. And to Russ, Dixon, my deputy, and his small, but perfectly formed, Embassy team.
Today I call on BBBF members who are not yet sponsors to sign up. If you would like to organize your own event we would be delighted to add your plans to the rapidly lengthening list of events which are taking place. I call on members of the British community who are not yet involved to do so, whether through your business, your club, your society or your children’s school. Or do your own thing. I hear that Mini owners are going to have a GREAT Mini rally. Why not Range Rover, Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Jaguar, McLaren and Bentley owners too? Just do it!
British companies, their families and individuals have enjoyed a long relationship with the Kingdom and have, over the years, made a significant contribution to the global awareness of Bahrain, not only as a trading nation, but as a friendly and hospitable place to live. The GREAT British Week is not just about promoting the UK and the bilateral relationship but is a genuine opportunity for the whole community to get involved in celebrating everything British and at the same time to say to His Majesty and the people of Bahrain ‘thank you for making us feel so welcome and so much at home in your country’.
The GREAT British Week will be, I hope, an event which people will benefit from and talk about for many years to come. And one which I can be proud of in thanking His Majesty for his generous patronage and support. I urge you and your companies to become involved. And from Sunday the GREAT British Week website will go live on the yallbahrain.com website. Everything about the Week will be there, so very much a one-stop shop. Let us know what you are planning so we can get the message out.
Khaled, ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to your support as the Embassy drives forward the bilateral relationship in 2014. Let’s get the year off to a cracking start with a GREAT British Week. Many thanks, Happy National Day, and a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you all.